ConstructionPro Week, Volume: Construction Advisor Today - Issue: 6 - 06/05/2009

Commercial Energy Retrofits

The Department of Energy announced Monday that $256 million from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will go towards energy efficiency improvements in industrial sectors all across the nation.

"Supporting the development of the latest industrial technologies plays an important role in helping U.S. industry to lead the world in energy efficiency and productivity," said DOE Secretary Steven Chu. "Working together with American manufacturing and IT industries, we will be able to create new jobs, reduce industrial energy use and limit damaging greenhouse gas emissions."

 

In April, Pike Research, a global clean technology market research and consulting firm, published its study "Energy Efficiency Retrofits for Commercial and Public Buildings." According to this report, the total opportunity for major green renovations in the commercial building market, both public and private, is approximately $400 billion over the next few years. Though the market for green energy retrofits in the commercial sector is still somewhat small, Pike Research forecasts that the annual revenue of extensive efficiency retrofits will more than triple to $6.6 billion by 2013.

 

"High-performance green building space experiences lower vacancy rates and commands a premium price, compared to conventional space," said Clint Wheelock, Pike Research managing director. "Because of this, commercial building owners are adopting green retrofits as a market differentiator. The favorable retrofit business model will fuel steady momentum until most commercial building space has been retrofitted for energy efficiency."

 

The Empire State Building Gets an Energy Retrofit America's favorite building is leading the pack by going green in a very big way. The Empire State Building (ESB) will undergo an energy retrofit to improve building efficiency, reduce its carbon footprint and save on utility costs. The ESB retrofit team -- comprised of Johnson Controls Inc., Jones Lang LaSalle, Rocky Mountain Institute and the Clinton Climate Initiative -- announced in April that it added $20 million, for an energy retrofit, to the $500 million upgrade program already underway. The hope is that this project will be a leading example for commercial energy retrofits.

 

"The project will prove the viability for energy efficiency retrofit projects to dramatically increase building energy efficiency and reduce its overall carbon output with sensible payback periods and enhanced profitability," stated the ESB press release.

The energy retrofit is expected to reduce energy consumption by as much as 38 percent and will provide a replicable model for similar projects around the world. "Work is already underway and building s systems work is scheduled for completion by year-end 2010 at which point the building should achieve a 50 percent energy savings over historical numbers. As work progresses through project completion in late 2013, those numbers should improve even more.

The Rocky Mountain Institute explained that to achieve these results, the ESB will need to implement eight key projects or measures:

    * Direct digital controls
    * Tenant lighting, daylighting and plug upgrades
    * Variable air volume air-handling units
    * Chiller plant retrofit
    * Building window retrofit
    * Tenant energy management program
    * Radiative barrier
    * Tenant demand control ventilation

"Commercial and residential buildings account for the majority of the total carbon footprint of cities around the world -- over 70 percent in New York City. Most new buildings are built with the environment in mind, but the real key to substantial progress is reducing existing building energy consumption and carbon footprint," said Anthony E. Malkin, president of Wien & Malkin, property manager for the Empire State Building.

 

Taking Control of HVAC Controls
HVAC systems account for a significant chunk of energy consumption in most commercial buildings, so improvements to those systems will net immediate monthly savings.

 

"The most typical systems addressed in a commercial retrofit are lighting, HVAC, and controls," said George Plattenburg, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Servidyne, an Atlanta-based firm that provides energy efficiency solutions, energy audits, CMMS implementation, sustainability programs and other products and services that enhance the operational and financial performance of existing buildings.

 

"HVAC improvements can include new chillers, new cooling towers, new motors and motor drives, and the installation of heat exchangers and outside air economizers," Plattenburg said.

Retrofits and building optimization approaches that reduce energy consumption can also play a major part in helping an existing building reach LEED certification, Plattenburg said. Of all the scoring categories for LEED-Existing Building certification, energy consumption contributes the most points to a successful LEED certification effort.

 

A Quick Return on Investment
"In terms of simple payback, we typically find two kinds of efficiency investments have the quickest returns in the commercial building market," Plattenburg said. "The first, and most ubiquitous, is energy efficient lighting retrofits. New generation fluorescents combined with occupancy sensors and the emergence of rapidly improving LED lights offer opportunities for energy savings in nearly every type of commercial structure. It is not unusual for these retrofits to pay for themselves in two to three years or less."

"Where energy costs are high, returns are even better, and many utilities offer incentives for building owners and managers to further offset the cost of these investments," Plattenburg added. "In difficult economic times like these, in fact, we recommend that owners of portfolios of buildings prioritize their investment opportunities to take advantage of these high rate/rebate situations, and develop best practices that they can take to the rest of their portfolio when the timing is right."

The second type of quick ROI is retro-commissioning. This low-cost, hands-on approach to preventative maintenance means that the building's energy-consuming systems and controls are fine-tuned to maximize its energy efficiency. Plattenburg said it involves a facility audit with particular attention given to identifying low and no cost ways to improve efficiency.

Does retro-commissioning work? Servidyne has serviced more than 50 buildings in the past year and a half and in each case it has made a difference in energy consumption and savings. "We have seen savings ranging from five to 14 percent for both electricity and natural gas, and with simple paybacks of a year or less," Plattenburg said. "Typical retrofits include changes to control strategies and scheduling, repair of broken dampers, valves, and motor controls, and the installation of variable speed drives."

Retro-commissioning, or RCx, is growing increasingly popular as a utility-sponsored program. States with programs today include California, Oregon, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, and Minnesota.

 

The Future
Secretary Chu has stated that in the United States, more energy is used in buildings -- 40 percent -- than in any other sector of the economy. "We have the potential to make buildings 80 percent more efficient with investments that will pay for themselves in less than 15 years," he said at a commencement address at Harvard on June 3. "A transition to energy efficient buildings will cut our carbon emissions by one third," he said. Commercial retrofits will contribute greatly to that emissions reduction.

 

The DOE has challenged researchers to develop energy efficient building designs that supersede today's designs and technology. The Pike Research study outlines the future of U.S. energy efficiency and commercial retrofits. "[The] total U.S. commercial building market includes 70 billion square feet of space and represents one of the largest opportunities for energy savings, reduction of carbon emissions, and increased property values."

Contributed by Jamie R. Jensen

 

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